Soviet Media Coverage Easier Since Glasnost
The loosening of restrictions on Western journalists in the Soviet Union over the past two years has allowed the media to report much more quickly and accurately on all aspects of Soviet life, a Moscow-based CBS cameraman told students last night at Mather House.
Nicholas H. Turner, a fellow this semester at the Russian Research Center, said General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of "glasnost" has opened new doors to the foreign press because Soviet officials have become more accommodating.
"Though they once were crude and underhanded, they have become much more sophisticated and understanding about the media," Turner said. "They have learned how to cooperate, and in fact they are just willing to talk a lot more."
But he emphasized that this openness did not mean that a foreign journalist could be any less careful of the potential pitfalls of life as an outsider, as the 1986 arrest of U.S. News and World Report correspondent Nicholas Daniloff '56 for espionage demonstrated.
"You have to have a very healthy distrust of everyone you remain in contact with, even your sources. And you never go anywhere to meet anyone by yourself," Turner said.
Turner was based in Moscow from 1979 to 1981, and since then he has spent about three months each year in the Soviet Union. Until Gorbachev took over in 1985, he said, the Soviet bureaucracy did not allow filming inside any building without the government's permission, which often took months to receive.
"I had to make daily commando raids into about half a dozen shops if I wanted get footage of food lines without waiting forever," he said. Because of these restrictions, most news programs in the early '80s used exterior scenes as background for broadcasts from the USSR, he added.
Turner contrasted the inaccessible nature of Soviet society in the early '80s with today's surprising openness. He cited the two-hour CBS documentary shown this May about Soviet life, which was the network's first documentary on the subject in more than 20 years. He said he was amazed that only two months elapsed from the moment CBS created the idea for the show to the time of its telecast.
"It used to take us two months to get permission to film inside one factory," Turner said, "and even then it would be spotless and full of healthy, industrious and cheerful workers."